Pinotage is probably South Africa’s most treasured wine, not least because it was invented in the country in the 1920s. The intention of the inventor, Abraham Perold, was to combine the positive qualities of Hermitage with the more difficult Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir needed some assistance because it was, and still is, exceedingly fragile, and this makes it hard to grow. Perold created four seeds, but appears to have left them when he quit his University position. A junior lecturer, C. Niehaus, just happened to spot them, and the first Pinotage plants were moved to Elsenburg Agricultural college. The first Pinotage wine was made there in 1941, and since then it has become a South African favourite, winning consistent awards since 1959, when it won the Champion Wine of the Cape Wine Show.
Unlike many of the wines which South Africa produces, Pinotage is definitely a New World Wine, with few influences from Europe. This has caused some European wine experts to dismiss the wine, claiming that it smells like paint, and claiming that the taste is like rusty metal. The South Africans have also been influenced by the popularity, or lack of popularity, of their favourite wine, so for example when European wines were re-introduced to South Africa in the 1990s, after the end of Apartheid, many South African drinkers turned to these wines, ignoring Pinotage. However, as the wine growers and makers of South Africa have started to look again at the wine, as part of their national heritage, Pinotage is again becoming a popular wine.
Pinotage must be included in all Cape Blends of wine, and it is made into many different types of wine, from cheap and cheerful ‘quaffing’ wine to the traditional red and rosé wines which are suitable for maturing in a cellar. It can also be made into an attractive Port-style wine, and has sometimes been made into a sparkling red wine, all of which shows the adaptability of the wine, and how it can be blended into many different drinks. The wine produced by the Pinotage grape is often very high in tannins, so some wine makers choose to soften this through a maceration process. However, taking off the skin can sometimes cut back on the distinctive flavour of the finished wine. There is another preferred method of cutting back on the tannins by allowing the fruits to ripen fully, and then using oak barrels to reduce the tannins while keeping the flavour of the fruit.
The wine produced by Pinotage is often deep red, with a hedgerow flavour full of bright berries and very earthy flavours. One example of a good Pinotage wine is the Barista Pinotage 2010. Made on the Western Cape, this wine maker has concentrated on pulling out the smoky, coffee-like aromas of the wine. There is plenty of fruit flavour in the wine, but there are also hints of chocolate, cherry and some savoury elements which help to create a very elegant drink which goes well with red meats or strong blue cheese.